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Church of St Alexander Nevsky

Jerusalem

 

Solid security doors at entrance to the Church of St Alexander Nevsky (Seetheholyland.net)

Solid security doors at entrance to the Church of St Alexander Nevsky (Seetheholyland.net)

Remnants of the emperor Constantine’s original 4th-century Holy Sepulchre church can be seen inside a Russian Orthodox church that is a next-door neighbour of the present Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Church of St Alexander Nevsky — named after a 13th-century Russian warrior-prince — is often overlooked because its façade resembles an elegant residence or hotel rather than a church.

The tall and narrow façade, with solid security doors bearing notices in Russian, is at 25 Souq al-Dabbagha, about 70 metres from the entrance to the Holy Sepulchre courtyard.

Excavations here in 1883 — before the church was built — attracted worldwide attention, leading to the site becoming known as the “Russian Excavations”.

Particular attention focused on the discovery of a gate threshold believed by the excavators to belong to the Judgement Gate by which Jesus left the city on the way to the hill of Calvary (now contained within the Holy Sepulchre church). Modern archaeologists consider the gate probably dates from the 2nd century.

Reconstructed stairs on left led to Constantine's Holy Sepulchre church (Seetheholyland.net)

Reconstructed stairs on left led to Constantine’s Holy Sepulchre church (Seetheholyland.net)

The excavators also uncovered remains of the easternmost parts of Constantine’s 4th-century church, including the wide staircase that led to the church entrance.

As New Testament scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor put it, what was found “corresponds exactly to the eastern end of the Constantinian Holy Sepulchre as depicted in the sixth-century Madaba Map”.

 

Historical remains halted construction

The site on which the Church of St Alexander Nevsky stands was purchased in 1857 by the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, a lay organisation founded to assist faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Holy Land.

The idea was to build a Russian consulate and a hostel for pilgrims, who were arriving in their thousands at the port of Jaffa and often walking the 70 kilometres to Jerusalem.

When workers digging the foundations uncovered historical remains, construction was halted. Eventually the consulate and hostel were built outside the Old City, at a site now known as the Russian Compound, and a church was built over the ruins in Souq al-Dabbagha.

Because the excavations and the church were funded by the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, the property gained the popular name of the “Alexander Hospice”.

 

Stairway led to Holy Sepulchre church

Archway leading to excavated area of Church of St Alexander Nevsky (Seetheholyland.net)

Archway leading to excavated area of Church of St Alexander Nevsky (Seetheholyland.net)

Entering the excavated area in the basement of the church, one descends stairs to an archway. The right-hand column is from the 11th century; the stonework on the left is part of an entrance to the main forum established by the emperor Hadrian when he rebuilt Jerusalem as a Roman colony in the 2nd century.

Descending through the arch and turning left, one sees on the left a reconstruction of the wide stairway that led to the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre — which was much bigger than the present basilica.

Straight ahead, under a glass covering, is the gate threshold once thought to have been where Jesus left the city on the way to Calvary. This threshold may have been part of an arch built by Hadrian, but it was later re-used as an entrance to the Holy Sepulchre.

Next to the threshold is a large piece of the rock of Calvary, purchased when the church was built. Above it a crucifix has been fixed.

In the Roman wall to the left is an opening called the Eye of the Needle, intended for travellers who arrived after the gate was closed for the night.

"Judgement Gate" threshold displayed under glass (© Stanislao Lee / Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

“Judgement Gate” threshold displayed under glass (© Stanislao Lee / Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

On the other side of the threshold are the remains of another entrance to the Holy Sepulchre, cut into a Roman wall by Constantine’s engineers.

(Massive remnants of the main entrance to the Holy Sepulchre are still further ahead, in the adjoining property of Zalatimo’s sweetshop on Souq Khan al-Zeit.)

 

Chapel dedication honours medieval leader

At the top of the wide stairway is a sweeping depiction of Jesus carrying his cross. Behind it is a chapel, accessible from the ground floor.

Icon of St Alexander Nevsky from the cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria, that bears his name (Vassia Atanassova / Wikimedia)

Icon of St Alexander Nevsky from the cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria, that bears his name (Vassia Atanassova / Wikimedia)

The iconostasis, decorated in black and gold, dominates the chapel. Around the walls are hung paintings of Gospel scenes and, above these, a series of icons of Russian Orthodox saints.

The dedication of the chapel to St Alexander Nevsky honoured an exceptional leader of medieval Russia, who was accorded legendary status for his military victories over German and Swedish invaders. He was proclaimed a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1547.

 

Administered by: Imperial Russian Orthodox Palestine Society

Tel.: 02-627-4952

Open: 9am-6pm

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: Keys to Jerusalem (Oxford University Press, 2012)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)

 

External links

Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society
Alexander Nevsky (Orthodox Wiki)

 

 

Via Dolorosa

Jerusalem

Via Dolorosa

First Station: Pilgrims carry a cross through the courtyard of the Al-Omariyyeh College (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Chapel of the Flagellation

Chapel of the Condemnation

Ecce Homo Arch

 

Every Friday afternoon hundreds of Christians join in a procession through the Old City of Jerusalem, stopping at 14 Stations of the Cross as they identify with the suffering of Jesus on his way to crucifixion.

Their route is called the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows). This is also the name of the principal street they follow, a narrow marketplace abustle with traders and shoppers, most likely similar to the scene on the first Good Friday.

It is unlikely that Jesus followed this route on his way to Calvary. Today’s Via Dolorosa originated in pious tradition rather than in certain fact, but it is hallowed by the footsteps of the faithful over centuries.

 

Franciscans lead procession

Via Dolorosa

First Station: Franciscan friars begin the Friday observance in the courtyard of the Al-Omariyyeh College (Seetheholyland.net)

The Friday procession is led by Franciscan friars, custodians of most of the holy places since the 13th century.

It starts at 4pm — 3pm in winter, from late October till late March — at an Islamic college, Umariyya School, just inside St Stephen’s or Lions’ Gate. Pilgrims wind their way westward to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the last five Stations are located.

Each procession is accompanied by Muslim escorts, in Ottoman uniforms of red fez, gold-embroidered waistcoat and baggy blue trousers, who signify their authority by banging silver-topped staves on the ground.

Many other pilgrims, individually or in groups with guides, follow the same 500-metre route during the week.

Via Dolorosa

Route of the Via Dolorosa (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

For those walking the Via Dolorosa on their own, the route is not easy to follow.

A simple map is available from the Christian Information Centre, Omar Ibn el-Khattab Square, Jaffa Gate (closed on Sundays, Christian holidays and Saturday afternoons). The PlanetWare travel guide also has a map.

 

Number of Stations has varied

While scholars disagree on the path Jesus took on Good Friday, processions in the 4th and 5th centuries from the Mount of Olives to Calvary followed more or less along the route taken by modern pilgrims (but there were no stops for Stations).

The practice of following the Stations of the Cross appears to have developed in Europe among Christians who could not travel to the Holy Land. The number of Stations varied from 7 to 18 or more.

Today’s Via Dolorosa route was established in the 18th century, with the present 14 Stations, but some of the Stations were given their present location only in the 19th century.

Via Dolorosa

Bronze discs mark Stations on the Via Dolorosa; the crossed arms are a Franciscan symbol (Seetheholyland.net)

Nine of the 14 stations are based on Gospel references. The other five — Jesus’ three falls, his meeting with his Mother, and Veronica wiping his face — are traditional.

 

Place of judgement unknown

The chief difficulty in determining Jesus’ path to Calvary is that nobody knows the site of Pontius Pilate’s Praetorium, where Jesus was condemned to death and given the crossbeam of his cross to carry through the streets.

There are three possible locations:

Herod the Great’s Palace or Citadel, which dominated the Upper City. The remains of the Citadel complex, with its Tower of David (erected long after King David’s time), are just inside the present Jaffa Gate. This is the most likely location.

Via Dolorosa

Second Station: Ecce Homo Arch over Via Dolorosa, with Sisters of Zion convent at right (Seetheholyland.net)

• The Antonia Fortress, a vast military garrison built by Herod the Great north of the Temple compound and with a commanding view of the Temple environs. The Umariyya School, now the location of the first Station of the Cross, is believed to stand on part of its site.

• The Palace of the Hasmoneans, built before Herod’s time to house the rulers of Judea. It was probably located midway between Herod’s Palace and the Temple, in what is today the Jewish Quarter.

In the immediate area of the Antonia Fortress is the Ecce Homo Arch, reaching across the Via Dolorosa. It is named after the famous phrase (“Behold the Man” in Latin) spoken by Pilate when he showed the scourged Jesus to the crowd (John 19:5). But the arch was built after Jesus stood before Pilate.

Adjacent to the arch is the Ecce Homo Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Zion (the entrance is near the corner of the Via Dolorosa and a narrow alley called Adabat el-Rahbat, or The Nuns Ascent).

Via Dolorosa

Second Station: Roman soldiers’ game in Lithostrotos pavement under Zion Sisters convent (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Underneath the convent, pilgrims can visit stone pavings which were once claimed to be the Stone Pavement (Lithostrotos) where Pilate had his judgement seat (John 19:13).

Markings in the paving stones, indicating a dice game known as the King’s Game, suggested this was where Jesus was mocked by the soldiers (John 19:2-3). Yet this pavement is also from a later date.

Chapels worth visiting

Several of the chapels at the various Stations of the Cross are not often open to the public. Two at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa are open daily (8-12am, 2-5pm) and are worth visiting before starting the Way of the Cross.

Across the street from Umariyya School is a Franciscan compound containing the Chapel of the Flagellation and the Chapel of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross.

Via Dolorosa

Second Station: Jesus takes up his cross, in Chapel of the Condemnation (Tom Callinan/Seetheholyland.net)

The Chapel of the Flagellation is notable for its stained-glass windows behind the altar and on either side of the sanctuary. They show Pilate washing his hands; Jesus being scourged; and Barabbas expressing joy at his release. On the ceiling above the altar, a mosaic on a golden background depicts the crown of thorns pierced by stars.

The Flagellation Museum, displaying archaeological artifacts from several Holy Land sites, including Nazareth, Capernaum and the Mount of Olives, is open daily (except Sunday and Monday), 9am-1pm and 2-4pm.

The Chapel of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross is topped by five white domes. Artwork includes papier-mâché figures enacting some of the events of Jesus’ Passion.

Paving stones at the back of the chapel are part of the pavement that extends under the Ecce Homo Convent.

Via Dolorosa

Third Station: Relief depicting Jesus’ first fall (Seetheholyland.net)

Opposite the chapel entrance is a model of Jerusalem in the first century AD, showing how the sites of Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre were outside the city walls.

 

The 14 Stations

Numbering of the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa traditionally uses Roman numerals:

I: Jesus is condemned to death

Via Dolorosa

Fourth Station: Sculpture depicting Jesus meeting his Mother (Seetheholyland.net)

About 300 metres west of St Stephen’s or Lions’ Gate, steps lead up to the courtyard of Umariyya School (open Monday-Thursday and Saturday, 2.30-6pm, Friday 2.30-4pm; entry with caretaker’s permission).

Here the First Station is commemorated. The southern end of the courtyard offers a view overlooking the Temple Mount.

II: Jesus carries his cross

Across the street, near where an arch stretches over the Via Dolorosa, the Second Station is marked by the words “II Statio” on the wall of the Franciscan Friary.

III: Jesus falls the first time

Down the Via Dolorosa, under the Ecce Homo Arch and about 100 metres along, a sharp left turn into Al-Wad Road brings pilgrims to a small chapel on the left, belonging to the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate.

Via Dolorosa

Fifth Station: Pilgrims on the Way of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

Above the entrance, a stone relief of Jesus falling with his cross marks the Third Station. Inside, a similar image is watched by shocked angels.

IV: Jesus meets his Mother

The Fourth Station is now commemorated adjacent to the Third Station. Until 2008 this Station was commemorated a further 25 metres along Al-Wad Road.

The stone relief marking the Station is over the doorway to the courtyard of an Armenian Catholic church. In the crypt are a strikingly attractive adoration chapel and part of a mosaic floor from a 5th-century church. In the centre of the mosaic is depicted a pair of sandals, said to represent the spot where the suffering Mary was standing.

Via Dolorosa

Sixth Station: Column imbedded in wall recalls tradition that Veronica wiped Jesus’ face here (Seetheholyland.net)

V: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross

About 25 metres further along Al-Wad Road, the Via Dolorosa turns right. At the corner, the lintel over a doorway bears a Latin inscription marking the site where Simon, a visitor from present-day Libya, became involved in Jesus’ Passion.

The Franciscan chapel here, dedicated to Simon the Cyrenian, is on the site of the Franciscans’ first house in Jerusalem, in 1229.

VI: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

The Via Dolorosa now becomes a narrow, stepped street as it wends its way uphill. About 100 metres on the left, a wooden door with studded metal bands indicates the Greek Catholic (Melkite) Church of St Veronica.

According to tradition, the face of Jesus was imprinted on the cloth she used to wipe it. A cloth described as Veronica’s veil is reported to have been kept in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome since the 8th century.

VII: Jesus falls the second time

Via Dolorosa

Seventh Station: Relief depicting Jesus’ second fall, in one of the chapels at the Station (Seetheholyland.net)

About 75 metres further uphill, at the junction of the Via Dolorosa with Souq Khan al-Zeit, two Franciscan chapels, one above the other, mark the Seventh Station.

Inside the lower chapel is a large stone column, part of the colonnaded Cardo Maximus, the main street of Byzantine Jerusalem, which ran from north to south.

The position of this Station marks the western boundary of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time. It is believed he left the city here, through the Garden Gate, on his way to Calvary.

VIII: Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem

Across Souq Khan al-Zeit and about 20 metres up a narrower street, the Eighth Station is opposite the Station VIII Souvenir Bazaar.

On the wall of a Greek Orthodox monastery, beneath the number marker is a carved stone set at eye level. It is distinguished by a Latin cross flanked by the Greek letters IC XC NI KA (meaning “Jesus Christ conquers”).

Via Dolorosa

Eighth Station: Stone in wall, carved with Latin cross (Seetheholyland.net)

IX: Jesus falls the third time

Now it is necessary to retrace one’s steps back towards the Seventh Station, and turn right along Souq Khan al-Zeit.

Less than 100 metres on the right is a flight of 28 wide stone steps. At the top, a left turn along a winding lane for about 80 metres leads to the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, where the shaft of a Roman pillar to the left of the entrance marks Jesus’ third fall. Nearby is the Coptic Chapel of St Helen.

To the left of the pillar, three steps lead to a terrace that is the roof of the Chapel of St Helena in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here, in a cluster of primitive cells, live a community of Ethiopian Orthodox monks.

X: Jesus is stripped of his garments

The last five Stations of the Cross are situated inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Via Dolorosa

Ninth Station: Roman pillar in far corner marks Jesus’ third fall (Seetheholyland.net)

If the door to the roof of the church is open, a short cut is possible.

On the terrace, the second small door on the right leads into the Ethiopians’ upper chapel. Steps at the back descend to their lower chapel, where a door gives access to the courtyard of the Holy Sepulchre basilica.

The Friday procession, however, returns along the winding lane and stone steps to Souq Khan al-Zeit, turning right after about 40 metres into Souq al-Dabbagha.

After about 80 metres, bearing to the right, a small archway with the words “Holy Sepulchre” leads into the church courtyard.

To the right inside the main door of the church, 19 steep and curving steps lead up to the chapels constructed above the rock of Calvary.

The five Stations inside the church are not specifically marked.

Via Dolorosa

Tenth Station: Interior of Chapel of the Franks, where the Tenth Station is located (Seetheholyland.net)

After ascending the steps inside the door, immediately on the right is a window looking into a small worship space called the Chapel of the Franks (a name traditionally given to the Franciscans). Here, in what was formerly an external entrance to Calvary, the Tenth Station is located.

XI: Jesus is nailed to the cross

The Catholic Chapel of the Nailing to the Cross, in the right nave on Calvary, is the site of the Eleventh Station.

On its ceiling is a 12th-century medallion of the Ascension of Jesus — the only surviving Crusader mosaic in the church.

Via Dolorosa

Eleventh Station: Catholic chapel on Calvary floor commemorates the nailing of Jesus to the cross (Seetheholyland.net)

XII: Jesus dies on the cross

The much more ornate Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Crucifixion, in the left nave of Calvary, is the Twelfth Station.

A silver disc beneath the altar marks the place where it is believed the cross of Christ stood. The limestone rock of Calvary may be touched through a round hole in the disc.

XIII: Jesus is taken down from the cross

Between the Catholic and Greek chapels, a Catholic altar of Our Lady of Sorrows, depicting Mary with a sword piercing her heart, commemorates the Thirteenth Station.

XIV: Jesus is laid in the tomb

Via Dolorosa

Twelfth Station: Close-up of figure of Christ in Chapel of the Crucifixion (Picturesfree.org)

Another flight of steep stairs at the left rear of the Greek chapel leads back to the ground floor.

Downstairs and to the left, under the centre of the vast dome of the church, is a stone monument called an edicule (“little house”), its entrance flanked by rows of huge candles.

This is the Tomb of Christ, the Fourteenth Station of the Cross.

This stone monument encloses the tomb (sepulchre) where it is believed Jesus lay buried for three days — and where he rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning.

 

Related articles:

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre Chapels

 

Via Dolorosa

Fourteenth Station: Edicule over the Tomb of Jesus (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

In Scripture:

The crucifixion: Matthew 27:24-61; Mark 15:15-47; Luke 23:24-56; John 18:13—19:42

Via Dolorosa

Resurrected Christ behind ornate lamps above the door of the edicule (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

The empty tomb: Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke: 24:1-12; John 20:1-10

Administered by: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Tel.: 972-2-6272692

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Beitzel, Barry J.: Biblica, The Bible Atlas: A Social and Historical Journey Through the Lands of the Bible (Global Book Publishing, 2007)
Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Hibbs, Jon: “Jerusalem: Pilgrims and Playboys”, The Telegraph, April 3, 1999
Jacobs, Daniel: Jerusalem: The Mini Rough Guide (Rough Guides, 1999)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: Keys to Jerusalem (Oxford University Press, 2012)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Pixner, Bargil: With Jesus in Jerusalem – his First and Last Days in Judea (Corazin Publishing, 1996)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Zohar, Gil: “X Marks the Spot”, Associated Christian Press Bulletin, January-February 2009

External links

Way of the Cross (Catholic Encyclopedia)
The Way of the Cross (Christus Rex)
The Meaning of the Way of the Cross (Franciscan Cyberspot)

 

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